You probably skipped this news report. It’s about poetry. CJ Allen once copied from another poet and has had to withdraw from the shortlist for this year’s Forward Prize. In case we’ve forgotten what paperbacks look like, there's a photograph inside a bookshop. A woman is facing the shelves. No men around. I can’t read the titles, but they won’t be poetry. Poetry sections aren’t so crammed, and we prefer to browse detective fiction. If she’s put something under her coat, or in that bulging bag of hers, I hope she remembers to pay. We all know it’s wrong to steal.
Matthew Welton was the poet-victim. He found out that Allen had pilfered his work. Poets, by definition, read poetry, if only their own. But Welton isn't just a poet. He’s a literary Poirot. Hearing Allen read some poems at a public event, Monsieur Welton recognised the words, and bought his rival’s books to check for plagiarism. It was plentiful.
Poets have a special interest in poetry. If the sole reason they buy it is to confirm plagiarism, you can't expect the public to be queuing at the till. There is one happy note. When Allen viewed his royalty report and saw these sales appear, he must have felt the thrill which every author feels.
Prizes can raise a writer’s profile and increase sales. Allen’s profile has certainly been raised. We may as well believe him when he says his Forward poem is original. The title must be his for a start: Explaining the Plot of ‘Blade Runner’ to my Mother who has Alzheimer’s. You couldn’t copy it inadvertently, and you would never do it on purpose.
Poets are entitled to make mistakes, short of stealing other people’s work. Note the missing comma in the Blade Runner title, before who, a slip which reveals that Allen has at least two mothers, one of whom has Alzheimer’s and one of whom has not, and probably hundreds more, matrons who replicate in perfect shape, but then decline, sniff once a year, or promptly pass away.
The poem is not bad. Two or three lines need cutting where he explains too much, but the informal style, the teasing, yet compassionate tone, and the coping-with-a-sick-parent theme are all in vogue at the moment. Long titles are also fashionable. I’m thinking of the recent, best-selling novel, The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared. CJ Allen, the less-than-a-hundred-year-old man, whose exact age I don’t know because he’s not in Wikipedia, who pulled out of the prize and disappeared, must have thought he’d done everything right: ‘I didn’t copy this time, I thought up a long-winded title and I got some comments from Mum (the Alzheimer’s one).’
But he was shot down all the same. He might just as well have called it: Explaining the plot of ‘Blade Runner’ to my mother who has Alzheimer’s, which she hasn’t always had, not when I was cribbing from Welton and she pretended not to notice, just waited for me to crucify myself.
Once upon a time we were convinced that short titles and long texts were more likely to sell. But poets are a perverse lot. Item: Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798, and Resolving to Leave Dorothy at Home in Future. Today we have CJ Allen, whose near-prize experience has yielded fewer than twenty lines and boasts a healthy title that can stand on its own eighteen feet like an opening verse.
CJ’s poem has received several ‘likes’ on the apoemaday website. At first, I thought this was a laxative. It's not just name. Read the poetry. Glance through the comments which readers have left, and you’ll find plenty of references to physical exertion, coitus, for example, and reproductive organs in the mouth, usually a male organ, and one mouth in particular. I wonder what the others are saying, the people who don’t like the poem.